According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of the land of the free and the home of the brave officially hit 300 million at 7:46 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, October 16, 2006.
The Census Bureau, which uses administrative records and surveys to estimate monthly averages for the births, deaths, and net immigration that occur between its decennial surveys, has a “population clock” that estimates a birth every 7 seconds, a death every 13 seconds, and a new immigrant every 31 seconds, for a total of one new American every 11 seconds.
The growth rate of the United States is less than one percent, with the population increasing by about 2.8 million people per year. Around 40 percent of our growth comes from immigration — the Census Bureau includes illegal immigrants in its official population estimates — while the rest comes from births outnumbering deaths.
America’s population reached 100 million in 1915, and 200 million in 1967. During the last 39 years in which the U.S. population increased by 100 million souls, the entire world population grew from 3.5 billion to 6.5 billion.
In its population growth, the U.S.A. stands alone among industrialized nations, having grown by 13% during the 1990s, which is five times the average of other developed countries.
We are the world’s third most populous nation, behind the burgeoning economic superpowers of China (1.31 billion) and India (1.09 billion).
According to Census Bureau estimates, the U.S. population is expected to reach 400 million by 2043.
When America’s population reached 100 million in 1915, the milestone was celebrated as a sign of the nation’s economic and geopolitical might in the world.
When our population surpassed 200 million in 1967, cheers rang through the lobby of the Commerce Department, and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s celebratory speech was interrupted by many bursts of enthusiastic applause. Life magazine found a baby boy born in Atlanta at the exact moment, and dispatched photographers and reporters to anoint him as the 200 millionth American.
Now that we’ve reached the 300 million mark, Census Bureau employees observed the occasion with cake and punch.
Today’s population growth is driven by immigration almost as much as by births and many are speculating that the 300 millionth American did not arrive in a maternity ward, but from across the Mexican border.
In light of the past year’s controversy over how to handle the estimated 11 to 12 million immigrants here illegally, and the midterm elections being only weeks away, the lack of government-sponsored hoopla is somewhat understandable.
Environmentalist and anti-immigration groups do not see America as a robust and flourishing nation, but rather as one whose growth and consumption are spiraling out of control, threatening the purity of our air, water, and food — and the complexion of our demographics.
The environmentalists lament that our wildernesses are being paved over to make room for “urban sprawl.” They are concerned that more traffic burning fossil fuels will cause an increase of greenhouse gas emissions that are widely believed to be a cause of global warming.
Anti-immigration groups complain that many of our communities appear to be changing almost overnight as schools and roads become increasingly crowded with Spanish-speaking people. They are worried because immigrants, legal and illegal, account for about 40% of our population growth, and that Hispanics from Latin America account for the largest share of immigrants. Some fear that these trends could result in “Anglos” becoming a minority here — as if that would be a Bad Thing.
Internecine Immigration Incongruence
The ongoing immigration controversy is a product of politics, not economic pragmatism, which is why there are between 11 and 12 million illegal immigrants working here, regardless of immigration policies that serve the ambitions of politicians whose constituencies are not quite ready to embrace the ethnic and cultural and plurality that is America.
Few people will argue that illegal immigration isn’t a problem that needs to be reduced, not only for the sake of the rule of law, but for the welfare of the workers who are exploited by unscrupulous businesses looking for cheap labor that is unregulated, undocumented, and unprotected.
Dealing with the 11-12 million illegal immigrants who are already here filling 11-12 million jobs should, in theory, be a manageable problem, considering the basic laws of supply and demand, and the fact that when America absorbed large waves of immigrants in the past, our economy and culture were enriched.
However, the notion of granting some form of amnesty to illegal immigrants — no matter how economically beneficial that could be — presents a moral conundrum. Is it fair and just to show clemency toward those who broke the law to enter America after so many other people immigrated here via the proper, legal channels?
Of course it isn’t fair! But that doesn’t solve the actual economic problem at hand, which is that our immigration policies are in need of realistic and practical reform so that jobs that need to be filled can be filled legally, and with workers who enjoy the protections and benefits of documented work.
A workable compromise would be a system in which illegal immigrants and the businesses that hire them are fined, and then given a chance to comply with the law or face increasingly severe penalties for repeat offenses.
But that idea is unappealing to those whose pride, prejudice, and pretentiousness make them more concerned with demographics than current economic realities. For such people, the ingredients in America’s melting pot have taken on too much of a Latino flavor.
Thus the ongoing immigration controversy that actually has very little to do with securing our borders against a surplus of labor, and more to do with fear of the minority-majority state.
The hand-wringing pessimism of environmentalists and city dwellers who complain that humanity is crowding out and paving over Mother Nature belies the fact that America still has plenty of wide-open spaces.
A mere 84 people per square mile means we have a lot of room left for growth inside our 3,537,438.44 square miles of land area. Considering that there are about 300 people per square mile in the European Union, and almost 900 people per square mile in Japan, the U.S. is comparatively under populated.
It’s not the actual size of our population that causes environmental problems, but rather how people are distributed. A little more than half of the U.S. population is clustered in cities and along the coasts, while large swaths of the country are struggling to keep their populations from shrinking. For example, there are 6 million people living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas, which is nearly twice the entire population of the nearby state of Oklahoma.
As more people move away from crowded cities and into the suburbs, land use is becoming less efficient. Single-use zoning and low-density land use have created car dependent communities, which have lead to more traffic and emissions.
The solution to the environmental impact of our increasing population is not the limitation of growth, but more efficient planning, such as the implementation of “smart growth,” policies that encourage compact land use patterns, optimal access to public transportation, pedestrian-friendly and bicycle-friendly roads, and mixed-use development.
Smart growth principles are focused upon the total long-term economics of development, rather than the short term profits of improving individual parcels of land, so they are a hard sell to developers whose priorities are minimizing costs and maximizing revenues for their investors, not preparing environmental impact assessments that may oblige them to cover the potentially high expense of mitigating the environmental impact of their development projects.
Policy-makers, in their efforts to challenge obsolete ideas of urban planning (such as the need for more single-family homes that necessitate more prevalent automobile usage), must provide financial incentives to developers in order to negate any perceived need for authoritarian restrictions on free enterprise.
If smart growth is profitable to developers, they will not only implement those techniques in their future projects, they will promote the idea in their marketing collaterals.
Contrary to popular pessimism, America’s growth is a Good Thing. Many demographers believe that our reaching the 300 million milestone shows that America, in spite of our image around the world being momentarily tarnished by the inconsistent progress of the war in Iraq, is an economically powerful republic that is admired in most of the world.
“As almost nothing else can, immigration-led growth signals the attractiveness of the American economy and polity,” says Kenneth Prewitt, a former head of the Census Bureau and now professor of public affairs at Columbia University. “You don’t see large numbers of immigrants clamoring to move to China.”
Stagnant populations, such as those of Japan and some European countries, will face severe retirement crises in the future. Sub-replacement fertility rates are leading to a situation in which there will not be enough young workers to support retirees. It should also be noted that their populations are not growing as fast as ours through immigration because they are not creating as many jobs.
The fact that the U.S. population is growing faster via immigration than other developed nations will allow us to better deal with the financial pressures of an aging population whose life expectancy has climbed from 71 to 78 years since 1967. Immigrants and their children will help reduce funding shortfalls for Social Security, Medicare, and other social programs that benefit older people.
In the past 80 years, America has experienced both explosive population growth and unprecedented prosperity, in spite of major wars and a decade-long economic depression. In more recent times, our resilient economy has survived the September 11 attacks, rising oil and commodity prices, increased global competition, corporate scandals, and the geopolitical risks associated with the war in Iraq and nuclear proliferation.
On Wednesday October 18, 2006 the Dow Jones industrial average rose above 12,000 for the first time in its 110-year history. And if history is any indication, the stock market will continue to grow at a significantly faster rate than the population because businesses and workers are steadily becoming more productive due to the accelerating rate of our technological progress.
American innovation, a product of our ever-expanding diversity, has brought us prosperity, even through the toughest of times. Our technology has improved our overall quality of life, with advances in medical science that have increased our longevity while decreasing our infant mortality rate, and exponential progress in transportation and telecommunications that has made us smarter and more efficient and productive.
In the future, it will be our inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit that will see us through to the 400 million milestone, and beyond — regardless of the foreboding exhortations of doomsayers, crepehangers, defeatists, and cynics who think pessimism is synonymous with realism.
So here’s to 300-plus American souls, among whom could be the doctors who will discover the cures for cancer, diabetes, and AIDS; the engineers who will negate our need for fossil fuels, and the national leaders who will diplomatically and peacefully spread the American vision of freedom and prosperity throughout the world.Powered by Sidelines